Parliament: Workgroup will be formed to study solutions to freelancers' concerns

From April 1, workers will be able to tap on the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management for mediation on salary-related disputes, and head to the Employment Claims Tribunal if mediation is unsuccessful.
From April 1, workers will be able to tap on the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management for mediation on salary-related disputes, and head to the Employment Claims Tribunal if mediation is unsuccessful. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Freelance workers can look forward to more protection, as the Government will form a tripartite workgroup to study the issues they face.

The group, which will include representatives from the labour movement and employers, will look at solutions to address concerns commonly faced by such workers.

The move comes after the Manpower Ministry (MOM) conducted its first survey focusing solely on the 200,000 or so freelancers here, in August last year.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say said the top concern respondents listed was whether they can find sufficient customers. They were also worried about the lack of income security if they are injured or go for training, about whether clients would pay them on time and in full, and about their savings for housing and retirement.

"While these concerns may not be new to freelancers, we are taking them seriously. This is because the number of freelancers may grow in our future economy, in tandem with the growth of the platform economy," said Mr Lim.

MOM's survey found that the proportion of people who freelance as their main job has been fairly stable over the past 10 years, at 8 to 10 per cent of all employed Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Most freelancers, or 81 per cent, are freelancing by choice, while the others stated that their current work was not their preferred job.

The vast majority of freelancers are in traditional occupations such as taxi drivers, real estate agents, business owners, insurance agents and private tutors. These jobs are done by over 10,000 workers each.

Among the pool of freelancers are over 20,000 in the gig economy - those who use online platforms to link up with and provide services to customers.

This includes about 10,500 private hire car drivers and about 10,000 other gig freelancers such as graphic designers, photographers and deliverymen.

At least seven MPs called for more help for freelancers and gig workers in their speeches during the debate on the Manpower Ministry's budget.

Several raised suggestions on helping these workers access better medical benefits, such as Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC), who called for more risk-pooling initiatives, and Mr Ong Teng Koon (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC) who suggested letting employees pay to continue their coverage after leaving an employer, to avoid a situation where they may be unable to get new medical insurance if they develop a condition while at their previous job.

Ms Foo Mee Har (West Coast GRC) suggested a marketplace for pooled medical coverage for gig workers as well as a marketplace for gig workers and employers to rate each other. She also suggested establishing Central Provident Fund contribution obligations for freelancers and clients engaged in a contract for service.

In a separate speech, Mr Lim also gave details on other measures to improve employment protection for workers here.

From April 1, workers will be able to tap on the Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management (TADM) for mediation on salary-related disputes, and head to the Employment Claims Tribunal if mediation is unsuccessful, he said.

A pilot project since September last year to mediate disputes outside the scope of the tribunal was able to resolve eight in 10 of the 50 cases, which included disputes over termination and training bonds.

Local workers will be able to approach TADM at the Devan Nair Institute for Employment and Employability in Jurong, while work pass holders can go to the MOM Services Centre in Bendemeer.

TADM will also provide a Short Term Relief Fund from April 1, funded by MOM, to provide financial help for local low-wage workers who cannot recover unpaid salaries because their employers are in financial difficulties or ceased operations. The support will be means-tested but aims to cover the bottom 20th percentile of workers.

TADM will work with other organisations to link people to services such as legal clinics, employment help or social and emotional support, and the scope of its services will be broadened progressively, Mr Lim said.

The ministry is also launching new tripartite standards for employers to follow, to complement existing laws to prevent bad practices and tripartite advisories to encourage progressive ones.

These standards will be specific and easy to monitor, and companies that agree to adopt them will be listed online on the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices website and the Jobs Bank so that workers can find out more information about their employers.

Two examples of these standards could be flexible work arrangements, or working arrangements in a specific sector. The first series of tripartite standards will be launched by the end of the year, said Mr Lim.